A Prayer in Times of Pain and Sorrow – Psalm 22 (Jesus Prayed It Too)

I love Psalm 22. In this psalm, God provides us with an awesome way to connect with Him in our sorrows, and to find His strength and peace in that place.

In this psalm, God doesn’t tell us our sorrows will completely disappear. But He shows us that He will be present with us in that place, and bring us HIS peace.

Jesus Is with Us in Our Pain

To show us that He truly understands the pain in our hearts, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 from the cross.

Here is the first verse of Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (NRSV)

And here are Jesus’ words from Matthew 27:46:

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

In His most difficult hour, when God the Father Himself had to turn away from Jesus (because Jesus had taken on all of our sin), Jesus began to pray Psalm 22. 

In praying this psalm, Jesus gives us a model for how to pray during times of sorrow. He also shows us that He is with us in our pain.

Psalm 22 Helps Us Pray in Pain

How does Psalm 22 guide us in prayer? The psalmist begins with a lament, an expression of his sorrow. From the very start, he makes it clear he is telling all of this to God – all of his pain, all of his sorrow. Out loud. To God.

In verses 1-21, the psalmist offers three laments, and they get progressively worse! He gets to the point where he feels like he is at death’s door (verse 15). And honestly, some of the other stuff sounds worse than that.

But in between these laments, something interesting happens. The psalmist remembers about God’s faithfulness. He turns to the truth He knows about God.

The Struggle in the Heart – It’s Real

That doesn’t mean the psalmist feels that truth in his heart. His heart is hurting. He knows what the truth is, but he doesn’t feel it yet. There is a battle going on in his heart. His pain and his sorrowful experiences are very real. But he also remembers that God is good.

It’s in the midst of that struggle within the heart where God does His best work.

So the psalm goes like this:

Lament (verses 1-2) – the psalmist feels abandoned by God.

Truth (verses 3-5) – the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness in times past.

Lament (verses 6-8) – the psalmist feels scorned.

Truth (verses 9-11) – the psalmist remembers God has always been with him.

Lament (verses 12-18) – the psalmist is at death’s door (and worse).

Truth (verses 19-21) – the psalmist is confident God can deliver him.

Heart Change – God’s Peace Is Here

Notice that the truth doesn’t take away his reality or his sorrow. But it does bring peace to his heart, the peace of knowing God is present. How can we tell? Verse 22 says it all: a change of heart, where the psalmist begins to praise God in the midst of suffering. This praise grows with great intensity to the end of the psalm.

He doesn’t praise because he “has” to (although that would be okay). He praises because God has brought him peace in the midst of his very real suffering. The psalmist knows God hears his pain. He says this in verse 24. And not just his own pain, but also the pain of everyone who is suffering.

There is a lot of peace and comfort that comes from knowing that someone else is present with us in pain and really hears our heart. We need this from each other. Most importantly, we need this from God.

Sorrow and Truth – We Need Both

The beauty of this psalm, as a prayer, is the movement between lament (expression of our sorrow) and truth. Often when we pray in times of pain and sorrow, we end up with one or the other, but not both.

We need both.

We can lament and lament until there is nothing left of us. But if we haven’t taken the next step to pray for God’s truth in our situation, we end up consumed with lament, and no peace (just like the psalmist at the end of verse 2 – unable to find rest).

On the other hand, sometimes we rush too quickly to speak the truth. And we overlook the pain in our hearts.

Sometimes we do this because we are afraid of giving words to our sorrow or struggle – afraid that once we start crying out in pain, we will never stop.

We might also avoid the pain because people around us might get uncomfortable with our expressions of grief and sorrow. Society (even in the church) doesn’t really like “lament,” and we rarely feel like we have permission to grieve. We’re supposed to just “get over it” and move on. “It’s under the blood” – we hear that so often, meaning that whatever we are struggling with, God’s already taken care of it, in some way or another.

But when we say things like that, we risk applying truth like a band-aid without draining the wound.

It’s important that we do both: That we lament, expressing our sorrows out loud to God; and that once we have completely poured out all the pain that’s stuffed in our hearts, we then remember God’s truth.

Psalm 22 teaches us beautifully how to pray both, back and forth, until God’s peace comes into our hearts. The situation may not change. But we have His peace. We can take the next step forward in our daily life, even in the midst of painful things.

Again and Again, until Our Hearts Know God Is Here

What I also love about this psalm is how very real the psalmist is. He doesn’t just stop at verse 5. He laments again. And again! Until he is done. Really done.

Only then does he turn to praise.

When you read verses 22-31, you can tell that God’s peace has come into his heart in that place of deepest sorrow. There is nothing quite like the tearful and heartfelt praise of someone who has just cried out all of her pain to God.

Jesus Prayed This for You

If you are in pain or sorrow of any kind right now, I encourage you to read and pray through Psalm 22. Remember that Jesus Himself also prayed this psalm at His worst hour. He prayed it while carrying all of your pain and sorrow in His own body, mind, and heart. So in a way, He has already prayed this psalm for you.

When you join Him now in praying Psalm 22, He will meet you there and will bring His peace to your heart, as only He can.

That doesn’t mean your pain or sorrow will lift completely, or that your circumstances will change overnight, especially if you have experienced and are grieving a loss. But it does mean that you will have the strength and comfort of Jesus’ presence with you in that place.

You will be able to experience His peace, which is a peace like no other. It’s the peace that helps you take the next breath and keep going.

It’s also the peace that reassures you, deep in your heart, that God is here, and that He loves you from a deep well of love that’s almost beyond imagining.

Are You Feeling Someone’s Grief?

We all feel for others. When a loved one is down, we feel down as well. We even feel pain for people we don’t know. A news broadcast might show a family that is grieving after a tornado destroys their home. We feel that pain as if it’s our own. Human empathy is a beautiful gift God has given to us, so we can comfort and support each other through life’s hardships.

For intercessors, especially those with a burden-bearing gift, this feeling can be even stronger. We can literally pick up on emotions from others – even when they are not around us and we don’t know what they are going through. The pain that person is experiencing can literally overcome us, body, soul, and spirit. God might be allowing us to feel a part of their grief, so we can invite Him into that place with His comfort.

Yesterday, I was suddenly overcome with grief. It just descended like a cloud. I literally had to go to bed in the early evening as I was overcome with sadness. There was no apparent reason for this. Nothing was wrong with me and I was having a good day. Then I received a text about a friend who had just learned some tragic news.

Barely did the news process than I started wailing. Deep anguish took over me and I just wept and cried out. This went on for a while, as I prayed, and then I was able to get up and go about my evening, albeit subdued at the thought of what my friend was enduring. I continued to pray a lot until it was really time for bed.

Burden bearing for an intercessor can look and feel that way. It’s important for you and your family to understand what it is and how to move through it. Otherwise, you can feel as if you’re losing your mind.

When emotions come over you out of nowhere, and you don’t know why, stop and ask God, “Is this mine, or is this for someone else?” He will show you. If what you are feeling is for someone else, ask Him to lead you in prayer for that person. You might not even know who the person is; that’s okay, because God knows. Follow His lead in prayer.

As you pray, invite God to come into that place of pain and lift the burden. This is important. You are not the one to carry the burden, nor can you. It is for Jesus to carry. He allows you to feel part of the burden so you will invite Him with your prayers. Especially in situations of grief or recent trauma, the burden can often be too heavy for the person going through it. As an intercessor and friend, you have the privilege to invite God to lift that portion that they cannot bear. Jesus Himself will bear it for and with them.

Be sure you pray through this, giving all of it to God. Don’t try and bear these burdens on your own strength. They are very real and can affect you in ways God does not intend. It’s important to learn how to bear burdens rightly. Once you have prayed through each burden, ask God to lift the burden from you and cleanse you, so that you don’t take it into your own flesh. Ask Him to seal what He has done, and thank Him.

I can recommend two excellent books that will help you know if you are a burden bearer and how to use this gift in the right ways:

Sharing the Burden by Christa and Dirk Luling – This book takes a practical approach to the personality and daily life of a burden bearer. It teaches about what burden bearing looks like and how to live in a healthy way as a burden bearer. This book is especially insightful for parents of burden-bearing children and teens. But it will also help burden-bearing adults recognize and learn how to live with this gift.

The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity by Carol A. Brown – This book takes a spiritual approach to the gift of burden bearing. When you recognize yourself in these pages, you will feel like a light has come on. You are not crazy. You’re not alone. It’s a gift.

Burden bearing is a beautiful gift from God. If you have this gift, or if you see it in your children, it is important for you and your family to learn everything about it. Learn to use it in the way God intended, and you will have the privilege to come alongside others and God, to invite His comfort and healing in life’s difficult situations.

God Is Everything

The past two years have been painful. An ongoing sea of grief, trauma, and loss. In recent weeks, I began to feel raw, worn to the bone. In a word: done. Grieving takes time. So does recovery, and restoration.

But one thing I realized: I was not done with God. And I know He was not done with me. Did I yell at Him during these times of hardship? Absolutely. Did I cry out to Him with my face in the carpet? Yes. Did I feel as if He had abandoned me? Of course.

But like Peter, where else would I go but to God? (John 6:68) He is all I’ve got.

As I began to pray through this with Him, and detailed every loss, God reminded me that I have Him. And He is everything.

Everything!

That word exploded in my wounded heart: God is everything.

And I have Him.

I have everything, because of Him.

As humans, we go through times of loss. God understands. Just look at Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, his friend (John 11:33-36).

But despite everything we lose, we still have God. And He is everything.

Does that mean we haven’t felt the pain of loss? Of course not. We lose, and we hurt, and we grieve. God understands this. He enters into our grieving with us. He feels our loss, and it hurts Him too. But on the other side of our losses, we have the awesome privilege to realize we still have God.

And He is everything.

Am I still grieving? Yes. Do I still feel the pain of loss? Absolutely, I do. But with each new day, I feel a little bit more comforted to know God is here, and He is everything.

If you’re hurting today, and grieving in every part of your heart, know that God is here for you. He is your everything. He knows your loss, and He hurts in your pain. He weeps with you.

He is here.